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Handstitched repairs of medieval parchment


A preliminary study (summer 2019)

The Special Collections Library of the University of Graz is home to the approximately 340 manuscripts from Seckau Abbey (endowed in 1140 by Augustinian order), that came to Graz following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1782. The Seckau collection spans a period from the 12th through to the 16th centuries, when the books were written on specially treated animal skins called parchment.

The most striking feature of many manuscripts in this collection is highly decorative yet functional handstitched repairs of the parchment, carried out in colourful silk thread in a variety of stitches. With these books the needleworkers continued a long established tradition of repairing by sewing.

This style and method of repair draws the reader's attention to areas of damage on the page. These repairs can be likened to today's fashionable movement of making deliberately visible repairs to old clothes, known as 'visible mending'.  But what is being made 'visible' by hand stitched repairs in silk in Seckau manuscripts? What can they tell us about the production of and care for the books in monastic libraries?  Who were the makers of these repairs? When were they done?

To begin answering these questions we examined two manuscripts (UBG, Ms 755 und Ms 479) focusing on the type of stitches, colours and materials used for repairs. We also compared the quality of stitching, the similarities or differences in handwork between the quires (these are 'gatherings' or 'booklets' of which a book is formed). With this data we set up a reference database as a tool to assist researchers in identification of workshops that produced and cared for monastic libraries.


(Luba Nurse/Renate Einsiedl/)

Images: SonderSpecial Collections

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